Synopsis: Buffy and gang (with the addition of Spike and Riley) fend off the end of the world...again.
Review: This episode begins right where the previous episode, Hush, one of the greatest Buffy episodes, ends. Then I saw "Written By Marti Noxon & David Fury & Jane Espenson" in the opening credits, and I was scared. Not because of any one individual name--yes, I know I do not keep it a secret that I am not a fan of Noxon episodes, but this list of names generally delivers solid episodes. But I thought, what must be wrong with this episode that it took three different writers before getting it right?
It is not uncommon for two or more writers to pen a screenplay together, but such writers usually work in teams all the time. Noxon, Fury, and Espenson usually write alone and are staff members on Buffy--one might even say the cream of the crop. It is common in Hollywood for a studio to ask another writer to rewrite a screenplay they feel is "bad." If a movie has a list of three or more writers, generally--but not always--it is a bad sign. I discovered after watching this episode that with Buffy and Angel both going on and hungry for screenplays, these three writers did not feel like they had enough time to devote to an entire screenplay, so they decided to divide this episode up into thirds each writer tackling a different third. Familiar with the other episodes these writers have penned, it was fun trying to guess which third each writer created. If I had to guess, I would say each writer penned the third in the order their names came in the credits.
My favorite scene in the entire episode was Buffy, Giles, Willow, and Xander researching Sunnydale's newest monster. It is my favorite not just because of memorable lines such as the gang shouting "again" to Giles moaning, "It's the end of the world." It was great seeing the core gang--the characters the show started with--together again. I do not know what they were trying at the first of this season, but this episode proves that the formula established in the first season still works, and they should stick with it. The core gang makes the show. Mark my words, the show will never be as good if this core gang is disbanded.
Buffy and Riley are perfect for each other, and Buffy finally realizes this at the end of the episode. Riley's method are lacking though. It is clear that the Initiative views the threat posed by demons as scientific and explainable. If you completely deny the supernatural aspect, you will be unable to defeat a supernatural foe. The episode cuts between a scene of the Initiative and a scene of the Scoobies planning for battle. It contrasts the methods in use. The former uses science, and the latter relies on the supernatural to battle the supernatural.
I am big on peeling back the layers of an episode to discover the theme, because it is the theme that makes an episode great. Tucked here in the middle third is the theme of the episode: do not deny the supernatural aspects of life. On one hand, this is a positive theme for Christians. Evolutionists, humanists, and psychologists debate endlessly about why evil exists in the world. They try to explain it scientifically. A psychologist is never going to be able to solve something plaguing someone's soul by administering medicine or even trying to determine what wrongs the mother may have done. It is interesting to note, psychologists play a big part in this season. Evil exists because we each have a sin nature. People do evil things naturally. On the other hand, people other than Christians recognize a supernatural influence in our world. New Age and Wicca are both ways people try to explain the supernatural part of life. Both of these philosophies are wrong and lead to Hell. Unfortunately, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is probably thinking more about Wicca than Christianity when addressing the supernatural.
In this episode, we see Spike more desperate and pathetic than ever before. It is also in this episode that Spike steps into his own as a full-fledged member of the Scooby gang. Spike is even on the verge of committing suicide, because he thinks he has nothing valuable to contribute to life (or death in the case of Spike). Then he discovers that he can fight demons. As I have noted repeatedly, Spike has not suddenly become a good guy; he is simply a non-bad guy in the mold of TV's greatest "good villains" such as Dr. Smith on Lost in Space. Spike has been known to brazenly give very true insights about other characters. When he calls Xander and Willow Buffy's groupies and says they have nothing valuable to offer either, he cannot be more wrong. He is projecting his own feelings of unimportance upon them.
Noxon, Fury, and Espenson deliver a solid episode working as a team. Not only does it contain great character development for the future of the series with the addition of Riley and Spike to the core characters, but it is reminiscent of the previous three seasons with the visit to the Hell mouth and the remains of the high school. It earns a 7.5 out of 10.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Reviewed by: Matthew Miller)